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Landslide problems plague western N.D.'s Highway 22, frustrate detoured drivers

KILLDEER, N.D. -- Dawn Stroh vividly remembers the day in May when Highway 22 cracked wide open in a severe landslide south of the Little Missouri River Bridge.

KILLDEER, N.D. -- Dawn Stroh vividly remembers the day in May when Highway 22 cracked wide open in a severe landslide south of the Little Missouri River Bridge.

It was the last day of class for Mandaree Public School, where she's been a Title 1 teacher for the past 11 years.

Then, it didn't seem possible that the highway she travels 45 miles from her farm home near Manning north to Mandaree would still be closed when school starts up again in a few short days.

The bad news is that it will be. The even worse news is that it will be closed until at least the end of the year, and that's if all goes well in a huge project that will involve relocating a half-mile stretch of the highway about 500 feet west and moving some 500,000 cubic yards of earth to cut down a substantial hill to do it.

"This is a very big project," said Larry Gangl, engineer for the Department of Transportation Dickinson District.

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The department has already spent $700,000 to construct a temporary bypass around the slide and was just ready to open the bypass when the road slid a second time.

Now, the department will spend an estimated $10 million more for what it hopes is a permanent fix.

The decision to relocate the road away from the slides, rather than rebuild over them, was made after officials studied soil borings and visually inspected the site for what should be the most stable option, Gangl said.

It's hoped that work will start quickly. The one landowner is being "very cooperative" about providing the additional easement to move the road over, Gangl said.

The project advances work that was going to be done next year, at least to some extent, Gangl said.

"Our goal is to have it open by the end of the year. He's (the contractor) going to have to work hard," Gangl said. The department won't attempt another bypass around the slide area because of instability.

Instead, Stroh and hundreds of other drivers -- if not thousands, with oil truck traffic -_will continue to be routed around a very lengthy detour over to Highway 85 through Watford City for at least five more months.

For Stroh, the detour turns a 50-minute drive to Mandaree into one that will take from two to three hours, depending on oil traffic and ongoing construction delays on Highway 85.

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"To those of us who commute there, it'll mean getting up at 3 a.m.," she said. "I won't quit at this point. I've been there 11 years and I wouldn't feel right about it."

Stroh's contract calls for some work in the summer months.

Her husband, Micheal Stroh, said after coming on an oil-semi accident near Killdeer, he put his foot down.

"I told her she was done for the summer," he said.

The district might have a trailer she can sleep in rather than drive home during the week, she said.

Susie Pelton, who lives northwest of Dunn Center, also teaches at Mandaree. She, too, is looking at a two- to three-hour drive and days of teaching that, with driving, will last 12 or more hours.

"When I heard it slid again, I thought, 'Oh, man,' " she said. "I love my job. After last winter, that was the kicker. Now to add these extra miles and hours ..."

The closed highway is not only an inconvenience, it's an expense.

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Walt Weaver, who's managing the Killdeer Cenex, said business is way off.

"It's bad," he said, estimating sales are down as much as 30 percent because normal traffic isn't going by the store anymore and because fuel delivery drivers are adding 100 detour miles one way to get to customers just across the Little Missouri River.

Dunn County Commissioner Bob Kleeman said locals were patient while the bypass was under construction, but not anymore.

"Now people are starting to get upset," he said.

Kleeman said some people believe the contractor moved too much dirt behind the bypass and caused more instability leading to the second slide.

"The way they did this was totally ineffective," he said.

Gangl disagrees and said the bypass involved "doing what we had to do, knowing full well" there was a chance another slide could happen.

"It was a chance we felt we had to take. It sure wasn't his (contractor's) fault the road slid," he said.

Kleeman said heavy detour traffic on Highway 85, with 60 vehicles stacked up, road rage and drivers taking poor chances to pass over hills, is downright scary.

To add to the situation, another 13 miles of Highway 22 north of Killdeer, but ahead of the slide area, are now under reconstruction.

Gangl said the work will last until freeze-up and drivers can expect delays and pilot cars for the duration.

Killdeer School Superintendent Gary Wilz said he's worried about bringing school buses through that reconstruction.

Pelton said she's contacted the governor's office and Kleeman said he's speaking out, too. He's hoping for a better solution, at least some route through Highway 22, if only for cars and light trucks, until the road is fixed.

"Something needs to be done," Kleeman said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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